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Actors’ Summit brings new work to stage with ‘Manning Up’

5/23/2013 - West Side Leader
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By David Ritchey

Peter Voinovich (Raymond Guiness), at left, and Keith Stevens (Donnie Boutrous) star in Actors’ Summit Theater’s “Manning Up.”
Photo: Bruce Ford
DOWNTOWN AKRON — What are the qualities of a man? What makes a man? Those questions seem to be the subject of “Manning Up,” which is now playing at Actors’ Summit Theater through June 2.

Playwright Sean Lewis places two likeable guys in a man cave, which is really a basement with a washer and dryer and feminine lingerie hanging on a clothes line. It also includes a TV (small, portable and old) resting on a stack of milk cartons, and an old sofa and a few metal chairs. This is not the man cave of Men’s Journal or Esquire, and it’s not the man cave of most male’s fantasies. But, set designer Rory Wohl scored a direct hit in making this man cave realistic.

The two men hunker down in the man cave and watch life happen. In this basement, they can escape the terrors of adulthood. Raymond Guiness (Peter Voinovich) and Donnie Boutrous (Keith Stevens) talk through the play, but what they say is interesting. First, each has a pregnant wife, who is expecting a child any day. Each is scared about the responsibilities of being a father.

Raymond is an actor and Donnie is a New York businessman. Donnie comments that the two men are best friends. Raymond responds that they are too old to have best friends.

As the play progresses, Raymond attempts therapy on Donnie that he’s learned from his psychologist. He plants an empty chair in the middle of the man cave and they talk to the chair as if the father of each was sitting in it and later they pretend to talk to themselves. Their talk reveals their fears and a shattering loneliness.

The show may be billed as a comedy, but the playwright brings some serious topics to the stage. People leave the theater talking about more than where they parked the car. 

Director Neil Thackaberry helped his actors develop distinct characters. The stage movement could easily become redundant with only two actors on the stage, but Thackaberry solves that problem with many different diversions. Voinovich is loud and boisterous as the soon-to-be father. He finds the laughs and goes for them. Stevens is a rock solid actor. He makes his character more fragile than Voinovich’s. But, he lets us know that beneath that fragility he’s tough and strong. 

In his curtain speech before the play, Thackaberry asked what’s the difference between a government bond and a man? The answer: A government bond finally matures. One of the interesting points in this play is watching each character mature.

“Manning Up” is part of The National New Play Network, which introduces a new play to the American public. This visibility will move “Manning Up” to the list of frequently produced plays and may give the play an extended life in other theaters in this country.

The opening night audience was thin. We certainly don’t expect the theater-producing organizations to offer only the old and familiar. We should celebrate the treat of getting to see a new play. “Manning Up” brings new thoughts and actions to a local stage. I urge my readers to enjoy this production.

For ticket information, telephone 330-374-7568.


David Ritchey has a Ph.D. in communications and is a professor of communications at The University of Akron. He is a member of the American Theatre Critics Association.

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